Wynnewood Girl Inspires IDF Soldiers with Letter

Beatrice Reese and Avi Lurie (Courtesy of Jennifer Reese)

As his 646th battalion of paratrooper reserves carried out mission after mission following Oct. 7, Avi Lurie noticed one of his men carrying around a letter.

So, the commander in the Israel Defense Forces unit asked his man why he was keeping it with him. It was one of 150 or so letters from well-wishers in the United States that the soldiers had received.

“This is the only letter that asked if we’re OK,” the soldier said. “That asked to hear back from us.”

It was from Beatrice Reese, a nine-year-old girl from Wynnewood. She wrote it as part of a school assignment at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El. The letter said, “Hi,” “With Love” and “thanks for guarding our homeland.”

And yes, Reese asked for a letter in return and left her address. Her mother, Jennifer Reese, was not too pleased with that part. But she could only laugh. That was her daughter.

“I wasn’t that surprised,” Jennifer Reese said. “Beatrice is a charming kid.”

Beatrice never got that letter back. Instead, she got something better: a visit from Lurie, whose family lives in Bryn Mawr.

In February, Lurie returned home to donate 63% of his liver to his father. After the surgeries, the men were recovering at home. Lisa Richman, the director of education at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El, knew of Lurie’s trip home and informed Jennifer Reese. They organized a meeting in early March.

Lurie told Beatrice “How much the letter had impacted them,” Jennifer Reese said. Beatrice asked Lurie all kinds of questions about Israel and his life. She also asked, “What’s it like being 27? Don’t you feel old?”

“I was laughing,” Lurie said. “There was curiosity.”

Beatrice Reese and Avi Lurie met in Bryn Mawr in early March. (Courtesy of Jennifer Reese)

Richman assigned the letter because the Conservative Jewish movement is an “action-oriented movement,” she said.

“And tikkun olam, repairing the world, is a very important Jewish value,” she said.

After Oct. 7, “we went into full action mode,” she added.

But what could students do? Write letters, according to Richman. The educational director used to work in a similar role at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. Each year, the camp employed a group of Israelis.

Richman always recalled a conversation she had with a tank operator in the IDF. He told her when he got letters, he would keep them in his tank.

“The IDF members have shown such gratitude,” Richman said. “And children, it means so much to them to know that they’re having an impact.”

When Richman went to Israel in December, she handed the letters to the IDF soldiers, according to Reese. Lurie and his unit were called up from the reserves on Oct. 8. By 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 9, they were already “on missions,” Lurie said.

The commander, who made aliyah in 2014, kept reassuring his men that there was support from his native country. Beatrice’s letter proved his point.

“She put her address on it as well. It gave it a sense of humanity,” he said. “Telling us to write back immediately connected to us on a personal and humane level to who was writing the letter.”

“It was something humane to latch onto amid all the inhumane stuff we were seeing,” he concluded.

When Richman returned from her trip to Israel, she contacted Reese. The educational director told the mother that her daughter’s letter had gotten into the hands of an IDF soldier from Bryn Mawr. The soldier had also gotten a release from the IDF to return to the United States for the surgery.

“He wants to meet Beatrice,” Richman said.

At the meeting, Reese watched as her daughter held her own in the conversation. Lurie also gave her a paratroopers’ pin and an Israeli flag that he carried with him in combat.

“She was really surprised and delighted,” Jennifer Reese said. “How cool is it to get a real paratroopers’ pin?”

The mother and daughter then gave Lurie a gift in return.

“I said, ‘You know, why don’t you take the letter? I have a photo of it. And the letter was for you,’” Reese said. “He said to his mom, ‘Oh, we need a frame for this.’”

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